It started last year with a few tentative inquiries about borrowing a tandem, and then one came up on YACF and had been up for sale for a while, it seemed to me an omen. Yes I will own a green touring tandem and I will have a silly adventure(s) on it. With only a 40 mile day ride on the bike I was a bit worried about our capabilities as a tandem team but none the less this was something we wanted to do and so preparations began.
I had a not so short list of jobs to do, sorting lighting out, checking the brakes and such and yet on that sunny Saturday morning their were still things that needed attention. We packed up what we thought we might need hoping to use just two panniers on the back but it quickly became apparent that we would need to use the front ones as well and so moments before departure I moved the low riders from my solo bike to the tandem.
With all the frantic actions of the morning slipping into the past we pedaled out into the sunshine of Stroud to catch the train to London. The bike handled well and the steering felt positive I was quietly confident we’d achieve our goal and that the rain that had been promised would not materialise.
Getting the tandem on the train in Stroud was easy, partly because the bicycle storage on FGW high speed trains is massive and partly because I’d phoned up to book and not only had they understood what a tandem was they’d explained what we needed to do. Needless to say it all went to plan.
Pulling into Paddington station we rescued the bike and pushed it out of the station stopping to use the possibly last nice toilets we might see for a while. I had omitted of course to tell Mary that it was 10k to London fields and instead lead a merry route avoiding the major traffic pinch points, while on the solo I would have had a crack at Marble Arch I figured it was a bad idea on a loaded Tandem.
Arriving at London Fields through the remains of what seemed to be a street party we located YACF corner and sorted ourselves out. Mary set out in search of refreshment and came back bearing two pints. One a rather nice little IPA and a Cider I was handed my drink with the proclamation I was only getting one as two pints cost almost a tenner, aghast I realised that Hackney had got trendy.
Usually at this stage I would have obtained some yummy Chinese food from the place I’ve always been to but it appeared to have shut and turned into a Thai restaurant. Sloping back to the bike and Mary I felt a little dejected. Mary took up the search for food and identified some Caribbean food place and set off in search, I got a txt 10 minutes later with the message “I’ve found Chinese”. The food was pretty good if not expensive but went down rather well.
The departure from London Fields was rather uneventful, apart from the fact that people seemed to waste time clipping and unclipping their fancy road shoes instead of pedalling and therefore holding up the really very heavy and tricky to balance at 2 mph tandem It is also not so easy to scoot on a tandem, so if you were a rider who got a grumpy face from me at the beginning sorry, but you probably should prat around with your plastic shoes somewhere other than in the middle of the road or I don’t know practice balancing your bike at low speed so everyone could keep moving.
The flow of bikes streamed out of the city and apart from taking a wrong turn following a couple guy’s not on the Dun Run we escaped from the crowded streets and headed towards the suburbs. You soon realise that the cruising speed of a semi loaded touring tandem is much lower than some whipper-snapper on a road bike, something we witnessed time and time again. However dear roadies I probably did more miles than you in the last 6 months than you’ve done all year so congratulating me for being out on the bike feels a little bit odd if not just a touch condescending.
Stopping at the garage in Epping we had a quick drink and moved on the crowds already thinning out, I’m not sure but we swear we saw a TV crew interviewing riders. I think this is a sign of how trendy the event has got now and I’m not sure I like it. We rode on sometimes being passed sometimes passing people stopped for a rest but arrived into a crowd at Moreton.
Mary nipped into the pub and got us a couple of orange Henry’s and we talked to Dameral from YACF before heading off. Hills were most definitely becoming our enemy and I really didn’t like that clicking sound coming from the back, it wasn’t the adjustment because I’d been fiddling with it for miles.
Onward we rode through the night to a soundtrack of click click click.
We stopped fairly often and made sure we drank but I don’t think we ate enough food as at times it felt like I was running on empty. Imagine the relief when looming from the darkness came a food stop run by some locals. Taking the bike in I fetched tea and a cheese burger. which we ate and drank and I filled up the water bottles. Some of the awesome flapjack was consumed and again we pushed on into the night.
In the past I’ve made it into Finchingfield in time to have a pint before struggling up the steep hill out of the village, tonight no such luck and my unease about the clicking meant that we didn’t stop and just pushed the bike up the hill.
The weather still at this point looking pretty good though the dampness on the roads indicating that it had arrived earlier. Much of the journey became a blur at this point, a blur set to the music of click click click and the background of rapidly growing shoulder pain. I am usually solid as a rock in terms of bike handling but had underestimated the effort required in holding the tandem up or I was making too much effort and I can’t work out which.
As I had worried it might the rain finally arrived at 4AM so we donned our coats and pressed on.
We arrived into Sible Headingham at about 5AM in the rain, passing the small park on the way to the food stop we saw the tail end charlies (yes we’d slipped that far back) trying to convince a group of cyclists that couldn’t find the food stop that they need to get up and walk down the drive just over there.
We leant the bike up against the wall and headed in, expecting their to be nothing left but heating and toilets. I still thought I’d try my luck at getting a cup of tea. Imagine my surprise on being offered pasta salad, soup, bread rolls and tea. We took everything on offer and found somewhere to sit, despite how I might have felt about getting to the beach the reality that even if we made it we wouldn’t be in a fit state to ride to Ipswich on Monday morning began to sink in.
We watched the rain pour down for a bit and then came to the conclusion that no matter what we couldn’t stay here so having seen the church when passing figured we could camp out in the porch until rescue that had not yet been arranged could arrive. We got our waterproofs on and cycled back to the church and manhandled it up the steps and into the spacious porch, at least we were dry and out of the elements.
I posted on YACF that we didn’t finish and put the jetboil on to make tea. The next couple of hours are what might be described as interesting as I had a phone call from Wowbagger with lots of useful advice about camp-sites and railway stations we could get a tandem on the train, and we spent some time trying to decide if to change out of our cycling clothes or not.
Eventually we decided it was a reasonable time to ring Mary’s parents to see if they would come and get us, which after some discussion they agreed to. All we had to do now was sit tight and await rescue. The look on the vicars face as he entered his churches porch that morning was priceless however he didn’t break a step as he ushered us into the church and informed us were we could find milk, tea, and probably some biscuits.
As he dashed off to start the service at his other church we tidied up the porch and changed into less damp clothing. Thankfully before the members of the Catholic congregation arrived for their service, everyone was very nice but we decided to sit quietly at the back with the pew heater on.
It is something to be mentioned in the opening of a church service, as a weary traveller.
As the last member of the congregation left and the Anglicans started to arrive we were saved from the second church service of the morning by the arrival of Mary’s dad. Quickly writing in the visitors book “Took shelter in stormy weather” we grabbed our stuff and headed down the steps. The heat in the car quickly sent us off to sleep and on arrival at Bryn Cottage I was handed a isotonic beer based drink for recovery purposes (honest).
We met the train at Reading station on Monday afternoon and it’s a lovely new station except that everything needs access by lift or escalator. Well the Tandem doesn’t fit in a lift so with the blessing of station staff we took it up the longest escalator I have every been up, about halfway though the security people saw fit to play the no bikes on escalators announcement though. As before the staff of FGW helped us on the train and the tandem fitted with ease, the only drawback was some buggers had nicked our reserved seats.
Will we be back next year… probably. Will we get to the beach this time… only time will tell. Oh and the clicking noise from the back. The chain had started to self destruct and was missing many rollers and looking like we only had a few miles left in it.